Hines Lumber has long been assigned to the scrap heap of vacant property. A River Forest mainstay since 1910, Hines, on far west Madison Street, was forced to close nearly four years ago after the economy tanked.
The property is in foreclosure, it's boarded up, and the site looks abandoned.
Officials have long hoped that someone would come in and revitalize the property, providing a boost to River Forest's property tax base.
The village will give closer scrutiny to that site and all of Madison Street from Thatcher to Lathrop avenues when a task force starts looking at how to spur economic redevelopment in River Forest.
An ad-hoc committee comprising four residents and chaired by Trustee Susan Conti will begin its work this summer once its roles, responsibilities and tasks are approved by the village board.
Trustees last week gave the go-ahead for the formation of the committee; formal approval is expected later this month.
The ad-hoc committee is not meant to be an ongoing committee, and initially it will work hand-in-glove with the Economic Development Commission, Village President Catherine Adduci said. Eventually the short-term group will morph into a longer-term commission that will examine revitalization throughout River Forest, she added.
No names of likely committee members have been floated publicly, but Adduci said, after her swearing-in last month, that they would look for people with marketing, planning and development expertise who would "leave no stone unturned in attracting the appropriate businesses and development" that could stabilize and increase the village's tax base.
The committee will not only provide ideas but also assess how River Forest can play a hand in getting Madison Street and other areas of town redeveloped, Adduci said.
Madison seemed like a natural place to start because a $1.3 million state grant was awarded to both River Forest and Forest Park to beautify the major thoroughfare. Both communities announced the Illinois Transportation Enhancement grant in January. The funding will aid in the street's development, Adduci said.
"Something will happen with Hines, and the village needs to set the stage with whoever will purchase it," Adduci said. "The village can facilitate that development."
This new panel also could assess whether Madison from Lathrop to Thatcher should be redeveloped together or in pieces.
The committee also would assist River Forest in assessing what tools could be used to attract development, she added. One might be the creation of a Tax Increment Financing District.
A TIF is a specially designated district used as a means of spurring economic revitalization by dedicating the sales tax and additional property tax revenues generated within that area for improvements. To qualify as a TIF, an area must have dilapidated or deteriorating property or declining assessed valuations, according to TIF Illinois, a coalition of firms specializing in the use of TIFs and other business incentives tools to stimulate economic development.
River Forest created a TIF to help redevelop the area from Harlem west to Thatcher, a section of town that now includes Town Center I and II.
The property tax portion of that TIF expired in 2009; the sales tax portion expires this December.
Another method could be the creation of a Special Service Area, or SSA, which is a method of public financing that funds expanded services and programs through a localized property tax levy within contiguous areas.
The projects typically include public-way maintenance and beautification, business retention and attraction, and other commercial and economic development initiatives, according to the city of Chicago.
The baseline for any redevelopment in River Forest will be the Corridor Study. This document outlines the village's long-range plan for improvement, redevelopment, beautification and overall revitalization of business corridors on Madison Street, North Avenue and Harlem Avenue. This plan also establishes a foundation for future decision-making regarding land use and development, circulation and access and overall beautification within the corridors, according to the report, done by Houseal Lavigne Associates of Chicago.
Adduci and Conti were on the board of trustees when the Corridor Study was approved in 2010.
Residents interested in volunteering for this committee are encouraged to go http://vrf.us/government/boards-a-commissions.
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